Rossini, Gioachino (Antonio)

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Rossini, Gioachino (Antonio)

Rossini, Gioachino (Antonio) , great Italian opera composer possessing an equal genius for shattering melodrama in tragedy and for devastating humor in comedy; b. Pesare, Feb. 29, 1792; d. Paris, Nov. 13, 1868. He came from a musical family; his father served as town trumpeter in Lugo and Pesaro and played brass instruments in provincial theaters and his mother sang opera as seconda donna. When his parents traveled, he was usually boarded in Bologna. After the family moved to Lugo, his father taught him to play the horn; he also had a chance to study singing with a local canon. Later the family moved to Bologna, where he studied singing, harpsichord, and music theory with Padre Tesei; also learned to play the violin and viola. Soon he acquired enough technical ability to serve as maestro al cembalo in local churches and at occasional opera productions. He studied voice with Matteo Babbini. In 1806 he was accepted as a student at the Liceo Musicale in Bologna, where he studied singing and solfeggio with Gibelli, cello with Cavedagna, piano with Zanotti, and counterpoint with Padre Mattei. He also began composing. On Aug. 11, 1808, his cantata Il pianto d’Armonia sulla morte d’Orfeo was performed at the Liceo Musicale in Bologna and received a prize. About the same time he wrote his first opera, Demetrio e Polibio (Rome, May 18, 1812). In 1810 he was commissioned to write a work for the Teatro San Moise in Venice; he submitted his opera La cambiale di matrimonio, which won considerable acclaim at its premiere (Nov. 3, 1801). His next work was L’equivoco stravagante, premiered in Bologna on Oct. 26, 1811. There followed a number of other operas: L’inganno felice (Venice, Jan. 8, 1812), Ciro in Babilonia (Ferrara, March 1812), and La scala di seta (Venice, May 9, 1812). In 1812 he obtained a commission from La Scala of Milan; the resulting work, La pietra del paragone, was a fine success at its first performance (Sept. 2, 1812). In 1813 he brought out 3 operas for Venice: Il Signor Bruschino (Jan.), Tancredi (Feb. 6), and L’Italiana in Algeri (May 22), the last becoming a perennial favorite. The next 3 operas, Aureliano in Palmira (Milan, Dec. 26, 1813), Il Turco in Italia (Milan, Aug. 14, 1814), and Sigismondo (Venice, Dec. 26, 1814), were unsuccessful. By that time Rossini, still a very young man, had been approached by the impresario Barbaja, the manager of the Teatro San Carlo and the Teatro Fondo in Naples, with an offer for an exclusive contract, under the terms of which Rossini was to supply 2 operas annually for Barbaja. The first opera Rossini wrote for him was Elisabetia, regina d’Inghilterra, premiered at the Teatro San Carlo in Naples on Oct. 4, 1815; the title role was entrusted to Isabella Colbran, who was Barbaja’s favorite mistress. An important innovation in the score was Rossini’s use of recitativo strumentato in place of the usual recitativo secco. His next opera, Torvaldo e Dorliska, premiered in Rome on Dec. 26., 1815, was an unfortunate failure. Rossini now determined to try his skill in composing an opera buffa, based on the famous play by Beaumarchais Le Barbier de Seville; it was an audacious decision on Rossini’s part, since an Italian opera on the same subject by Paisiello, Il Barbiere di Siviglia, first performed in 1782, was still playing with undiminished success. To avoid confusion, Rossini’s opera on this subject was performed at the Teatro Argentina in Rome under a different title, Almaviva, ossia L’inutile precauzione. Rossini was only 23 years old when he completed the score, which proved to be his greatest accomplishment and a standard opera buffa in the repertoire of theaters all over the world. Rossini conducted its first performance in Rome on Feb. 20, 1816, but if contemporary reports and gossip can be trusted, the occasion was marred by various stage accidents which moved the unruly Italian audience to interrupt the spectacle with vociferous outcries of derision; however, the next performance scored a brilliant success. For later productions he used the title Il Barbiere di Siviglia. Strangely enough, the operas he wrote immediately afterward were not uniformly successful: La Gazzetta, premiered in Naples on Sept. 26, 1816, passed unnoticed; the next opera, Otello, also premiered in Naples on Dec. 4, 1816, had some initial success but was not retained in the repertoire after a few sporadic performances. There followed La Cenerentola (Rome, Jan. 25, 1817) and La gazza ladra (Milan, May 31, 1817), which fared much better. But the following 7 operas, Armida, Mosè in Egitto, Ricciardo e Zoraide, Ermione, La Donna del lago, Maometto II, and Zelmira, premiered in Naples between 1817 and 1822, were soon forgotten; only the famous Prayer in Mosè in Egitto saved the opera from oblivion. The prima donna assoluta in all these operas was Isabella Colbran; after a long association with Barbaja, she went to live with Rossini, who finally married her on March 16, 1822. This event, however, did not result in a break between the impresario and the composer; Barbaja even made arrangements for a festival of Rossini’s works in Vienna at the Kärnthnertortheater, of which he became a director. In Vienna Rossini met Beethoven. Returning to Italy, he brought out a fairly successful mythological opera, Semiramide (Venice, Feb. 3, 1823), with Colbran in the title role. Rossini then signed a contract for a season in London with Giovanni Benelli, director of the Italian opera at the King’s Theatre. Rossini arrived in London late in 1823 and was received by King George IV. He conducted several of his operas, and was also a guest at the homes of the British nobility, where he played piano as an accompanist to singers, at very large fees. In 1824 he settled in Paris, where he became director of the Théâtre-Italien. For the coronation of King Charles X he composed Il viaggio a Reims, which was performed in Paris under his direction on June 19, 1825. He used parts of this pièce d’occasion in his opera Le Comte Ory. In Paris he met Meyerbeer, with whom he established an excellent relationship. After the expiration of his contract with the Théâtre-Italien, he was given the nominal titles of “Premier Compositeur du Roi” and “Inspecteur Général du Chant en France” at an annual salary of 25, 000 francs. He was now free to compose for the Paris Opéra; there, on Oct. 9, 1826, he brought out Le Siège de Corinthe, a revised French version of Maometto II. Later he also revised the score of Mosè in Egitto, which was first performed at the Paris Opéra in French as Moïse et Pharaon on March 26, 1827. There followed Le Comte Ory (Aug. 20, 1828). In May 1829 Rossini was able to obtain an agreement with the government of King Charles X guaranteeing him a lifetime annuity of 6, 000 francs. In return, he promised to write more works for the Paris Opéra. On Aug. 3, 1829, his Guillaume Tell was given its premiere at the Opéra; it became immensely popular.

At the age of 37, Rossini stopped writing operas. The French revolution of July 1830, which dethroned King Charles X, invalidated his contract with the French government. Rossini sued the government of King Louis Philippe, the successor to the throne of Charles X, for the continuation of his annuity; the incipient litigation was settled in 1835. In 1832 Rossini met Olympe Pélissier, who became his mistress; in 1837 Rossini legally separated from Colbran. She died in 1845, and on Aug. 16, 1846, Rossini married Pélissier. From 1836 to 1848 they lived in Bologna, where Rossini served as consultant to the Liceo Musicale. In 1848 they moved to Florence; in 1855 he decided to return to Paris, where he was to remain for the rest of his life. His home in the suburb of Passy became the magnet of the artistic world. Rossini was a charming, affable, and gregarious host; he entertained lavishly; he was a great gourmet, and invented recipes for Italian food that were enthusiastically adopted by French chefs. His wit was fabulous, and his sayings were eagerly reported in the French journals. He did not abandon composition entirely during his last years of life; in 1867 he wrote a Petite messe solennelle; as a token of gratitude to the government of the 2nd Empire he composed a Hymne à Napoleon III et à son vaillant peuple; of great interest are the numerous piano pieces, songs, and instrumental works which he called Péchés de vieillesse, a collection containing over 150 pieces.

What were the reasons for Rossini’s decision to stop writing operas? Rumors flew around Paris that he was unhappy about the cavalier treatment he received from the management of the Paris Opéra, and he spoke disdainfully of yielding the operatic field to “the Jews” (Meyerbeer and Halévy), whose operas captivated the Paris audiences. The report does not bear the stamp of truth, for Rossini was friendly with Meyerbeer until Meyerbeer’s death in 1864. Besides, he was not in the habit of complaining; he enjoyed life too well. He was called “Le Cygne de Pesaro” (“The Swan of Pesaro,” his birthplace). The story went that a delegation arrived from Pesaro with a project of building a monument to Rossini; the town authorities had enough money to pay for the pedestal, but not for the statue itself. Would Rossini contribute 10, 000 francs for the completion of the project? “For 10, 000 francs,” Rossini was supposed to have replied, “I would stand on the pedestal myself.” Se non è vero è ben trovato. He had a healthy sense of self-appreciation, but he invariably put it in a comic context. While his mother was still living, he addressed his letters to her as “Mother of the Great Maestro.”

The circumstance that Rossini was born on a leap-year day was the cause of many a bon mot on his part. On Feb. 29, 1868, he decided to celebrate his 19thbirthday, for indeed, there had been then only 19 leap years since his birth. He was superstitious; like many Italians, he stood in fear of Friday the 13th. He died on Nov. 13, 1868, which was a Friday. In 1887 his remains were taken to Florence for entombment in the Church of Santa Croce.

Rossini’s melodies have been used by many composers as themes for various works: Respighi utilized Rossini’s Quelques riens in his ballet La Boutique fantasque, and other themes in his orch. suite Rossiniana. An opera entitled Rossini in Neapel was written by Bernhard Paumgartner. Britten made use of Rossini’s music in his orch. suites Soirées musicales and Matinées musicales. The most famous arrangement of any of Rossini’s compositions is the aforementioned Prayer from Mosè in Egitto, transcribed for violin by Paganini.

A complete ed. of the works of Rossini, the Quaderni rossiniani, a cura della Fondazione Rossini, began publication in Pesare in 1954.


DRAMATIC: Opera: Demetrio e Polibio, opera seria (1808; Teatro Valle, Rome, May 18, 1812); La cambiale di matrimonio, farsa (Teatro San Moisè, Venice, Nov. 3, 1810); L’equivoco stravagante, opera buffa (Teatro del Corso, Bologna, Oct. 26, 1811); L’inganno felice, farsa (1811; Teatro San Moisè, Venice, Jan. 8, 1812); Ciro in Babilonia, ossia La caduta di Baldassare, dramma con cori or oratorio (Teatro Municipale, Ferrara, March 1812); La scala di seta, farsa (Teatro San Moisè, Venice, May 9, 1812); La pietra del paragone, melodramma giocoso or opera buffa (Teatro alla Scala, Milan, Sept. 26, 1812); L’occasione fa il ladro, ossia Il cambio della valigia, burletta per musica (Teatro San Moisè, Venice, Nov. 24, 1812); Il Signor Bruschino, ossia Il Figlio per azzardo, farsa giocosa (1812; Teatro San Moise, Venice, Jan. 1813); Tancredi, opera seria or melodramma eroico (1812–13; Teatro La Fenice, Venice, Feb. 6, 1813); L’Italiana in Algeri, melodramma giocoso (Teatro San Benedetto, Venice, May 22, 1813); Aureliano in Palmira, opera seria or dramma serio (Teatro alla Scala, Milan, Dec. 26, 1813); Il Turco in Italia, opera buffa or dramma buffo (Teatro alla Scala, Milan, Aug. 14, 1814); Sigismondo, opera seria or dramma (Teatro La Fenice, Venice, Dee. 26, 1814); Elisabetia, regina d’Inghilterra, dramma (Teatro San Carlo, Naples, Oct. 4, 1815); Torvaldo e Dorliska, dramma semiserio (Teatro Valle, Rome, Dec. 26, 1815); Il Barbiere di Siviglia, opera buffa or commedia (1st perf. as Almaviva, ossia L’inutile precauzione, Teatro Argentina, Rome, Feb. 20, 1816); La Gazzetta, ossia Il matrimonio per concorso (subtitle does not appear in the first printed libretto), opera buffa (Teatro dei Fiorentini, Naples, Sept. 26, 1816); Otello, ossia Il Moro di Venezia, opera seria or dramma (Teatro del Fondo, Naples, Dec. 4, 1816); La Cenerentola, ossia La bontà in trionfo, dramma giocoso (1816–17; Teatro Valle, Rome, Jan. 25, 1817); La gazza ladra, melodramma or opera semiseria (Teatro alla Scala, Milan, May 31, 1817); Armida, opera seria or dramma (Teatro San Carlo, Naples, Nov. 11, 1817); Adelaide di Borgogna, ossia Ottone, re d’Italia, dramma (Teatro Argentina, Rome, Dec. 27, 1817); Mosè in Egitto, azione tragicosacra or oratorio (Teatro San Carlo, Naples, March 5, 1818); Adina, o Il Califfo di Bagdad, farsa (1818; Teatro Sã Carlos, Lisbon, June 22, 1826); Ricciardo e Zoraide, dramma, opera seria, or opera semiseria (Teatro San Carlo, Naples, Dec. 3, 1818); Ermione, azione tragica (Teatro San Carlo, Naples, March 27, 1819); Eduardo [later Edoardo] e Cristina, dramma (Teatro San Benedetto, Venice, Aprii 24, 1819); La Donna del lago, melosacra or ora torio (Teatro San Carlo, Naples, Sept. 24, 1819); Bianca e Pallierò, ossia Il consiglio dei tre, opera seria (Teatroalla Scala, Milan, Dec. 26, 1819); Maometto Il, dramma or opera seria (Teatro San Carlo, Naples, Dec. 3, 1820); Matilde Shabran [later Matilde di Shabran], ossia Bellezza e Cuor di Ferro, opera semiseria (1820–21; Teatro Apollo, Rome, Feb. 24, 1821); Zelmira, dramma or opera seria (1821–22; Teatro San Carlo, Naples, Feb. 16, 1822); Semiramide, melodramma tragico or opera seria (1822–23; Teatro La Fenice, Venice, Feb. 3, 1823); Il viaggio a Reims, ossia L’albergo del Giglio d’Oro, cantata scenica (Théâtre-Italien, Paris, June 19, 1825); Le Siège de Corinthe, grand opera (rev. of Maometto II; Opéra, Paris, Oct. 9, 1826); Moise et Pharaon, ou Le Passage de la Mer Rouge, grand opera (rev. of Mosè in Egitto; Opéra, Paris, March 26, 1827); Le Comte Ory, opera-comique (utilizing numbers from Il viaggio a Reims; Opéra, Paris, Aug. 20, 1828); Guillaume Tell, grand opera (1828–29; Opéra, Paris, Aug. 3, 1829). ORCH.: Overture in D major (1808); 3 sinfonias: D major (1808); E-flat major (1809; later rev. for use as the overture to La cambiale dì matrimonio); A major (discovered by P. Ingerslev-Jenson and called the “Odense”); Variazioni in fa maggiore per piu strumenti obbligati con accompagnamento di orchestra (1809); Variazioni in do maggiore per clarinetto obbligato con accompagnamento di orchestra (1810); marches. CHAMBER: 6 sonate a quattro (1804); 5 string quartets (1806–08); 5 duets (1806); Tema con variazione per quattro strumenti a fiato for Flute, Clarinet, Horn, and Bassoon (1812); Rondeau fantastique for Horn and Piano (1856). VOCAL Cantatas: Il pianto d’Armonia sulla morte d’Orfeo (Bologna, Aug. 11, 1808); La morte di Didone (1811; Venice, May 2, 1818); Dalle quete e pallid’ombre (1812); Egle ed Irene (1814); L’Aurora (Rome, Nov. 1815); Le nozze di Teli e di Pelea (Naples, April 24, 1816); Cantata con cori (“Omaggio Umiliato…”; also known as Corifea, Partenope, or Igea; Naples, Feb. 20, 1819); Cantata a tre voci con cori (“Cantata…9 Maggio 1819”; Naples, May 9, 1819); La riconoscenza (Naples, Dec. 27, 1821); L’augurio felice (1822); La Santa Alleanza (Verona, Nov. 24, 1822); Il vero omaggio (Verona, Dee. 3, 1822); Il Bardo (1822); Omaggio pastorale (Treviso, Aprii 1, 1823); Il pianto delle muse in morte di Lord Byron (London, June 9, 1824); Cantata per il battesimo del figlio del banchiere Aguado (Paris, July 16, 1827); Giovanna d’Arco (1832; rev. 1852); Cantata ad Onore del Sommo Pontefice Pio IX (Bologna, Aug. 16, 1846). other: 3 early masses (the first contains 3 sections only by Rossini for a composite score composed by students of the Liceo Musicale in 1808 and perf. in Bologna, June 2, 1808; 1808; 1809); Messa solenne (Naples, March 19, 1820); Tantum ergo (1824); Soirées musicales (1830–35); Stabat Mater (1st version, 1831–32; orch. version, 1841; Paris, Jan. 7, 1842); Tantum ergo (Bologna, Nov. 28, 1847); O salutaris Hostia (1857); Laus Deo (1861); Petite messe solennelle (1863; Paris, March 14, 1864; orch. version, 1867; Paris, Feb. 24, 1869).


A valuable source is the Bollettino del Centro R.ano di Studi (Pesaro, 1955–60; 1967 et seq.). See also G. Righetti-Giorgi, Cenni di una donna già cantante sopra il maestro R.(Bologna, 1823); G. Carpani, Le Rossiniane, ossia Lettere musico-teatrali (Padua, 1824); Stendhal, Vie de R. (Paris, 1824; many subsequent eds. and trs.; Eng. tr. as Life of R., tr. and ed. by R. Coe, London and N.Y., 1956; 2nd ed., 1970); J.A. Wendt, R.’s Leben und Treiben (Leipzig, 1824); J.-L. d’Ortigue, De la guerre des dilettanti, ou De la Révolution opérée par R. dans l’opéra français, et des rapports qui existent entre la musique, la littérature et les arts (Paris, 1830); A. Zanolini, Biografia di G. R. (Paris, 1836; also later eds.); L. and M. Escudier, R.: Sa vie et ses oeuvres (Paris, 1854); E. de Mirecourt, R. (Paris, 1855); A. Aulagnier, G. R.: Sa vie et ses oeuvres (Paris, 1864); A.-J. Azevedo, G. R.: Sa vie ses oeuvres (Paris, 1864); F. Hiller, Plaudereien mit R., Vol. II of Aus dem Tonleben unserer Zeit (Leipzig, 1868); H. Edwards, Life of R.(London, 1869; reissued in a condensed version as R. and His School, London, 1881); C. Montrond, R.: Étude biographique (Lille, 1870); F. Mordani, Della vita privata di G. R.: Memorie inedite (Imola, 1871); A. Pougin, R.: Notes, impressions, souvenirs, commentaires (Paris, 1871); G. Van-zolini, Della vera patria di G. R. (Pesaro, 1873); L. Silvestri, Della vita e delle opere di G. R.… (Milan , 1874); C. Magnico, R. e Wagner, 0 La musica italiana e la musica tedesca (Genoa, 1875); G. de Sanctis, G. R.: Appunti di viaggio (Rome, 1878); J. Sittard, G.A. R. (Leipzig, 1882); C. Thrane, R. og operaen (Copenhagen, 1885); V. Camaiti, G. R.: Notizie biografiche, artistiche e aneddotiche (Florence, 1887); R. Gandolfi, G. R. (Florence, 1887); G. Mazzatinti, Lettere inedite di G. R. (Imola, 1890); A. Allmäyer, Undici lettere di G. R. pubblicate per la prima volta… (Siena, 1892); A. Kohut, R. (Leipzig, 1892); G. Mazzatinti, Lettere inedite e rare di G. R. (Imola, 1892); E. Michotte, Souvenirs: Une Soirée chez R. à Beau-Sejour (Passy) 1858 … (Brussels, n.d. [after 1893]; Eng. tr. by H. Weinstock, Chicago, 1968); E. Checchi, R.(Florence, 1898); A. Maffei, R.(Florence, 1898); G. Mazzatinti and F. and G. Manis, Lettere di G. R. (Florence, 1902); L. Dauriac, R.: Biographie critique (Paris, 1906); E. Michotte, Souvenirs: La Visite de R. Wagner à R. (Paris, 1860): Détails inédits et commentaires (Paris, 1906; Eng. tr. by H. Weinstock, Chicago, 1968); E. Corradi, G. R. (Rome, 1909); F. Cowen, R. (London and N.Y., 1912); G. Fara, Genio e ingegno musicale: G. R. (Turin, 1915); N. Morini, La casa di R. in Bologna (Bologna, 1916); L. Neretti, I due inni patriottici di G. R. (Florence, 1918); F. Vatielli, R. e Bologna (Bologna, 1918); H. de Curzon, R.(Paris, 1920; 2nd ed., 1930); R. Fauchois, R. (Lyons, 1922); G. Radiciotti, Il Barbiere di Siviglia: Guida attraverso la commedia e la musica (Milan, 1923); G. Gatti, Le “Barbier de Seville” de R.(Paris, 1926); G. Biamonti, Guglielmo Tell (Rome, 1929); G. Radiciotti, G. R.: Vita documenta, opere ed influenza su l’arte (3 vols., Tivoli, 1927–29); idem, Aneddoti rossiniani autentici (Rome, 1929); H. de Curzon, Une Heure avec R.(Paris, 1930); A. Bonaventura, R. (Florence, 1934); G. Derwent, R. and Some Forgotten Nightingales (London, 1934); H. Gerigk, R. (Potsdam, 1934); F. Toye, R.: A Study in Tragi-Comedy (London and N.Y., 1934); H. Faller, Die Gesangskoloratur in R.s Opern und ihre Ausführung (Berlin, 1935); G. Monaldi, Gli Uomini illustri: G. R. nell’arte, nella vita, negli aneddoti (Milan, n.d. [1936]); L. D’Amico, R. (Turin, 1939); R. Bacchelli, G. R.(Turin, 1941; 2nd ed., 1945); F. Bonavia, R. (London, 1941); A. Fraccaroli, R. (Milan , 1941; 4th ed., 1944); G. Roncaglia, R. l’olimpico (Milan , 1946; 2nd ed., 1953); G. Brigante Colonna, Vita di R.(Florence, 1947); K. Pfister, Das Leben R.s: Gesetz und Triumph der Oper (Vienna and Berlin, 1948); C. van Berkel, G. R. (Haarlem, 1950); F. Bonafé, R. et son oeuvre (Le-Puy-en-Velay, 1955); U. Gozzano, R.: Il romanzo dell’opera (Turin, 1955); L. Rognoni, R., con un’appendice comprendente lettere, documenti, testimonianze (Parma, 1956; 3rd ed., 1977); R. Bacchelli, R. e esperienze rossiniane (Milan, 1959); P. Ingerslev-Jensen, R. (Copenhagen, 1959); F. Schlitzer, Un piccolo carteggio inedito di R. con un impresario italiano a Vienna (Florence, 1959); V. Viviani, ed., I libretti di R.(Milan, 1965); A. Bonaccorsi, ed., G. R. (Florence, 1968); F. d’Amico, L’opera teatrale di G. R. (Rome, 1968); H. Weinstock, R.: A Biography (N.Y., 1968); P. Gossett, The Operas of R.: Problems of Textual Criticism in Nineteenth-Century Opera (diss., Princeton Univ., 1970); N. Till, R.: His Life and Times (Tunbridge Wells, 1983); A. Camosci, G. R. dai ritratti e dalle scritture (Rome, 1985); P. Mioli, Invito all’ascolto di G. R.(Milan, 1986); R. Osborne, R. (London, 1986; rev. ed., 1993); R. Bacchelli, Vita di R. (Florence, 1987); M. Beghelli and N. Gallino, eds., Tutti 1 libretti di R.(Milan, 1991); A Bassi, G. R. (Padua, 1992); B. Cagli and S. Ragni, eds., G. R.; Lettere e documenti (Pesaro, 1992 et seq.); A. Kendall, G. R.: The Reluctant Hero (London, 1992); P. Fabbri, ed., G. R., 1792–1992, il testo e la scena: Convegno internazionale di studi, Pesaro, 25–28 giugno 1992 (Pesaro, 1994); C. Osborne, The Bel Canto Operas of R., Donizetti, and Bellini (Portland, Ore., 1994); M. Grempler, R. e la patria: Studien zu Leben und Werk G. R.s vor dem Hintergrund des Risorgimento (Kassel, 1996); D. Tortora, Drammaturgia del R. serio: Le opere della maturità: Da Tancredi a Semiramide (Rome, 1996); M. Emanuele, L’ultima stagione italiana: Le forme dell’opera seria di R. da Napoli a Venezia (Florence and Turin, 1997); U. Teske-Spellerberg, Die Klaviermusik von G. R.(Tutzing, 1998).

—Nicolas Slonimsky/Laura Kuhn/Dennis McIntire